This is just a short post on the immense amount of gratitude I feel for those people who are in my life now and for those who have reached out from afar, in some cases the other side of the globe. I had no idea that when I wrote what was in my heart, it would travel anywhere, let alone reach people across the world.
Someday, when my heart isn’t too fragile and my emotions are not too vulnerable, I will say a proper Thank You for those who have kept me from wallowing, danced with my convoluted dreams and wanted me to succeed more then I have. Someday I will properly thank my husband for putting my needs above his own, for getting up with my children when I was too weak, for being strong and carrying the weight of our family and for shedding tears right along with me.
However, this post is about the gratitude that I feel for the people that have shown me there are truly caring and compassion people all around us. Whether it be within my own community with the people that have rallied around me or a single mom that sent me an amazing homemade card all the way from Glasgow. This is a thank you for the people that I have never met that have reached out to me to wish me well. My heart bursts when I think of all of these kind, compassionate humans out there in this world and it gives me hope for the future I will leave to to my children.
Recently, one of these genuinely kind souls reached out to me to see if he could post my blog on his website. He is a retired teacher that runs a nonprofit website that offers advise on journaling and writing as a therapeutic way to heal. Hat’s off to you Brian and the Journal for Life team. You found a way to help countless others through your love of journaling. The world would be a better place if we found a way to help others through our passion. Because, really, isn’t that what life is about? The world wouldn’t look so bright if we were to walk it alone.
So, please accept my sincerest heartfelt thank you for everyone that has reached out to me and kept me in your thoughts. Thank you for all of your compassion, your kindness and love. You have made my world a brighter place to be.
I was given a 6 month flying restriction after I had a stroke in March. My husband and dear friends booked a trip to Vegas not long after I got out of the hospital for October, only 16 days after the restrictions had been lifted. At first I was a little hesitant. I am still in recovery and have a some issues with fatigue, expressive speech and sensory stimulus, and I could think of no worse city for a stroke survivor to go. However, I explicitly trust my companions and I knew that I would be safe and they would be patient. If you hang out with me enough, you will hear me say that my new motto is be brave in spite of fear, to say yes to where ever life leads you and cherish every experience. I needed to put my money where my mouth was and as tentative as I was, I agreed.
Flying over the Nevada skyline, I looked down from my window seat and saw the proverbial city that never sleeps. The lights were amazing. I had seen this several times before, but it was new to me now. The lights dotted the landscape in perfect rows, and I could see that there was a design and a plan to this city. It was absolutely beautiful. I suddenly realized that the view from the street of a random alleyway would not appear so orderly or aesthetic. From street level you would not see the beautiful symmetry of buildings and the lights that danced off one another.
It is all about perspective.
When we view our lives with gratitude and with our hearts wide open and focus on what is happening with the present moment in mind, we can begin to see our lives from a new depth where there is a divine design, a pattern and a rhythm to life. From this perspective the lights dance off each other into a ubiquitous glow, and you are content to be alive in this glorious moment. We belong to the flow of life, connecting us all to each other.
Or, in contrast, when we focus on what is lacking and place walls around our hearts and spirits, we lose direction. We become so focused on what our life is missing, we don’t see the wonderful moments unfolding all around us. When we lose perspective we don’t see the divine light that connects us all. When we chose to separate ourselves and close ourselves off from the intrinsic flow of the world around us, we only see our lives from an back alleyway of a shoddy Vegas casino.
Recovering from a stroke is the hardest thing I have ever done. This is a very vulnerable topic for me to speak about. To be honest, I hate emotions, I prefer to keep everything bottled up inside and pretend (horribly) that I am above it. However, with much self reflection, shame is a seed that grows within every secret you keep and every uncomfortable emotion that you hide away. I refuse to be ashamed, so I will put up with the discomfort.
Everyone is recovering from something. It may be a job loss, a death of a loved one, a traumatic event, depression, a miscarriage or at this time in my life, a stroke and all of the endless recovery that comes along with that.
Heartache is easy to come by in this life. Everyone’s lives are filled with times of struggle, unhappiness and days that you don’t want to crawl out of the sheets because if you face another day like the last one, it might crush what soul you have left. I think if we are honest with ourselves, everyone has felt like this at one time or another, only some of us are better at hiding it and plastering on a fraudulent smile. Our struggles are different, but our emotions link us together.
Recovery is not a linear event. It is a rollercoaster filled with unimaginable peaks and valleys along the way. For that matter, life is neither linear nor direct. As much as we try, life is not something that you can schedule and control. You will have to go through many highs, lows and every direction in between. If you are lucky, you have someone to hold your hand and support you along the way. Find those people, reach out to them and allow them to hold you up when your knees are weak.
The thing is, as great as the support system you may have, no one can save you but yourself. At one point or another, we all need saving. Sometimes we need to push through our emotions, our loneliness and our disappointment and just stumble through the day.
You alone have to decide you are worth saving, you alone have to crawl out from under the covers and do what you thought was not possible. You alone have to reach out to someone when the burden is too much to bare. You have to be your own hero.
You have to decide that you are worthy of living a life beyond the grief, beyond the sorrow and heartache and have hope that there will be better days. Know that there will be better days to come and you just need to get through today to realize it. The moment you realize that you are worth saving, is the same moment that brings you closer to a time where your memories of grief, or emptiness will not be all encompassing.
Today, just get through a moment at a time and count your blessings tomorrow.
Today be your own hero. Today save yourself, because only you can decide you’re worth it.
I looked at the date today and
something triggered in my mind.
I am not too sure why the date made me pause and reflect, but I quickly realized it’s significance.
It was 6 months ago today, I had the privilege of holding a dying man’s hand and saying goodbye one last time. This isn’t the first time I have done that and it certainly won’t be the last. I am a chronic disease nurse, and assisting with life or death situations come with the territory.
“J” had been a patient of mine for over six years. He has listened to stories about my children and I have reminisced with him about his younger years. I have cared for him when he has been at his weakest and he has shared with me great wisdom and kindness every step of the way.
This was a very kind, honest man. The type that would never speak ill of someone or always asked how your day was. The amount of visitors he had was staggering. I am sure he held a lot of hands before he closed his eyes for the final time. I too had grown to love this man and it was hard to say goodbye.
Sometimes this part of my job can be unbearable and heartbreaking. However, my heart reminded me of the valuable lessons this has continued to teach me. As heart-wrenching as my chosen career is, it has taught me that it is the seemingly inconsequential moments that make up a life. The laughs shared with friends, the long talks with a loved one, the snuggles of your children. These small wonders are what it’s all about.
In the end, the clothes on your back, the amount in your bank account and the number on the scale mean literally nothing. It’s the memories, the moments and the people that surround you in your final hour that sums up a life. These present moments that we feel are so trivial are where love is nurtured and grown. In the end, there is nothing physical or tangible to grasp or cling too. All that remains is an how well you loved those around you and how many were willing to hold your hand.
Within three months, my world has been turned upside down. I very recently had a cryptogenic stroke which left me with Broca’s aphasia and apraxia. Aphasia and apraxia are just fancy medical terms for saying that my expressive communication (speaking and writing) was devastatingly affected.
At the age of 31, with two boys to raise, a nursing career and training for a 1/2 marathon, a stroke was not on my agenda. Strokes very rarely affect someone of my years, but more so important then my age, was the age of my two children; 4 years old and 15 months. My kids were much too little and they needed their mother.
It was three days after my stroke where the shock had subsided and the gravity of what disabilities I had been left with came into focus. As much as I tried, communication with the rest of the world was not coming back as easy as I would have liked.
My sister was at my bedside, as she was most of the time that I spent in the hospital. We were working on my speech rehabilitation which was essentially what you would learn in early elementary school. She was reading out sentences that I was supposed to attempt to write.
I sat, crossed legged on my hospital bed with a note pad, trying to write “The dog was black.” I couldn’t do it. With what seamed like an hour, I scribbled “dog, black.” I knew that wasn’t correct. I knew that I had missed the connecting words of a sentence but I had no idea what they were. My internal dialogue could say this simple sentence, but when I opened my mouth or put pen to paper, all I could muster was “dog black.”
I could feel the sting of tears welling up in my eyes and the lump rising in my throat. At that very moment I was not frustrated, I was not feeling sorry for myself and I was not overwhelmed. All I could think of is what was the last thing I wrote to my boys. What was the last thing I told them? Would they remember any of the things that I had taught them?
I surely did not give them enough encouragement, enough words of praise and enough words of wisdom to get them through to adulthood. I surely did not say “I love you” enough to last a lifetime.
I had written letters to my boys since the day they were born, detailing their lives. But, as life has gotten busier, the letters had been few and far in between. What if I could never write to them again? They need to know how perfect and how miraculous they are to me. I needed to tell them they are enough, I loved them more then anything and my heart beats for them.
How many words did I waste that didn’t mean anything. I regretted every time that I fought with my four year old about what type of pants to wear to Playschool. The times were I uttered the words, “I’m tired” or “I cant right now, I am busy.”
I should have used my energy to tell my four year old “the clothes on your body does not matter. I respect your choice to wear what you want.” Or “I will always have time for you, you are important.” I regretted the time I spent on Social media instead of writing the most amazing love letters to my children documenting every cherished memory. How I longed for those moments back.
My sister looked at me with compassion and empathy in her eyes. I gestured what I had wrote and with tears threatening to spill over, I could only say “Boys…Not Write.” She grabbed my hand. She looked at me and I knew that she understood what I was trying to say. She spoke words of encouragement and words of empathy. She said with such conviction that I would get better and would be able to say the things I so desperately wanted to tell my children.
Remarkably I did get better. With a lot of help from my husband, sister and speech pathologist and a lot of determination and hard work, I relearned sentence structure and began to speak and write again. I recovered enough to say what I so desperately wanted to express to my children. I make a point to focus my energy on choosing the words that come out of my mouth with hopes that I never forget the way this feels and what the stroke has taught me.
Among many things that this experience has taught me, (I am sure you will be sick of hearing about it but the stroke has been my greatest teacher) is that communication matters. Conversations matter. The words you choose matter. Talking leads to understanding and that is never a bad thing.
Words have a magical power to make people feel wanted, loved and special. They let people know they are not alone and even in extreme cases, to want to live another day. The opposite is true as well. Words can give sadness, anger, disgust and can break a child’s spirit. We can live in heaven or hell by the sentences we string together. What power! We can choose our words to give love to this world. If it’s honest, kind and is used to lift someone up, say it. Don’t let fear get in the way.
I want you to imagine that you are a child or young teenager. Remember when you felt like an utter disappointment and regretted your actions. Is it when you failed that math test? Is it when you cut your own hair (or your sister’s) or dropped a very breakable ornament?
Now, can you imagine when your mom, dad or a loved one found out and they said, “I understand that was a mistake. You will need to fix this, but we can work through it together. You have not disappointed me. My love for you is unconditional.”
How good would you feel? The words that they spoke can make you feel safe and supported and important to them.
Now, imagine that your loved one had a difference response. They rolled their eyes, sent you to your room and the look of disappointment haunted the lines in their face. How would you feel? Certainly not safe, or loved or important.
I try to remember this in every interaction with my children. Although it sometimes isn’t easy, I want them to feel loved and that I understand they are human and will make mistakes.
I am not pretending to be some sort of expert or prodigy of parenting. I have made many mistakes and will continue to do so. I have went to bed more often then not worried that I made the right choices for my children or said the right things. I think if we are honest, everyone has. In all our parenting wisdom, we are perfectly imperfect and will make blunders along the way. I have accepted that. But, what I do ask of myself is to choose to fix my mistakes and never let a relationship suffer for my impetuous response.
I see now with such certainty that words with intentions can bring about peace or can spew out venom that poisons the space around you. Words have the power to mend relationship, stitch together an open wound and heal the heart.
Say the things that matter to you. Have the conversations that you always wanted to have. Tell your children that your heart beats for them. We don’t know when we can get another chance.
It seams like a lifetime ago, however living with the aftermath of a stroke reminds me that it has not been long at all. It also reminds me to not take my second chance for granted. Now, everyday I try to live my life at the pace of my children. I read more stories, I have more playtime and attempt to see the world through my children’s eyes. At day’s end, when the last story is read and I tuck my children into bed, I ask myself, “Did I give enough encouragement, or words of praise to last them into adulthood? Did I say ‘I love you’ enough to last a lifetime?”